Anyone who’s done my directing prep workshop is familiar now with the fact that I want to do Cyrano de Bergerac as my next play. Actually, anyone who’s spent any real time near me at all knows that.
During the workshop, I used what I had done as prep for Cyrano to give the attendees examples of what sorts of things I meant when I said “write up what you want, what you need, where your problem children are and start brainstorming how you’ll fix that.” (I also fundamentally believe it isn’t the director’s job to figure out how to make the costume work (for example), but if the director can’t be arsed to think of a way it might work, then they can’t give any real information to the costumer. But that’s me and my generally opinionated way about doing things.)
One of the phrases I used a lot during the workshop was “this is the plan, and no plan survives first contact.” Theatre is a collaborative exercise. The actors & technicians are not automatons and part of why you want to work with them is for the skills, imagination & passion that drive them. Your eventual project is all of those dreams wound together to form a stronger tie to pull the audience into the world you build. So no matter how brilliant and how fully formed your vision and your prep is, something will happen, often in rehearsal or discussion with tech, that will cause you to have a “huh – which path do I choose?” moment. That point where you ask yourself is your original plan what you want to do still or is this new option better. I tried to convey during the workshop the acid test I use. “Will this make the story better? Will it be something that makes it work better?” If so, go for it. If not, turf it. And if you’re not sure, decide anyway. Nothing and I mean nothing kills a show more than a director who cannot make decisions.
All of which leads to what’s been happening to me for the last 10 days. I’ve wanted to do Cyrano for a while, but one of the limiting factors has been a location. The theatres we can really afford right now are too small to put that number of actors with swords in. The theatres that might be able to hold it are well & truly out of my price range.
Then I talked to a lovely friend I haven’t seen in ages (thanks, Amanda!) who works in the industry in Toronto and she made a suggestion that was the proverbial butterfly wing to my plan. She suggested I take a look at finding a warehouse space that was willing to take a month or two rental – that I could probably find one for roughly what I was paying in rent for the ones I can afford but would be larger. There would be drawbacks (no theatre, for example), but if we make the hook that it is in a warehouse, then we might just make this work.
That was two Saturdays ago.
For most of the following 7 days, it perked quietly in the back of my head. With Shadowlands coming into its closing weekend, I had a number of t’s to cross & i’s to dot, so I didn’t spend a lot of time actively thinking about Cyrano.
If you saw Shadowlands, you know how utterly proud of that cast & crew I am. They are amazing. If you didn’t see it, you missed out. Seriously.
Sunday morning at 4am, I am leaving the strike party. I’m driving one of the cast/crew members home and after dropping them off, the cascade starts.
I don’t know how other directors do this, and I’m not saying I don’t have to do a lot of just plain slug-tastic gruntwork when I’m developing a play, but I live for the moments where the cascade happens. Where the kernel idea suddenly hits enough braincells that I find myself going “okay, if that, then this. and if I do this, then I will need that over there, and, and, and, and…” Where the itch to direct goes from being the mild irritation of a single mosquito bite to hundreds of them and I have to direct to get the images out of my head and on a stage. It is where I get my passion for this. Well, that and the moment where I can hear the audience collectively react to something I’ve done to mess with their heads. That’s pretty awesome too.
Yes, I’m deliberately not saying what I want to do with Cyrano yet, because as awesome as the cascading ideas are, I need to sit still with the script for a bit and do that internal weighing. I think that this will serve the story, give me something I can sell, give me a place I can do it in and give me a take on Cyrano that hasn’t been done (or if it has, I can’t find it on Google). I need to test the idea. I need to talk to my nascent team and ask just how insane I am for changing things. My original idea of Cyrano was very classic – 17th C France with all the lace & frippery that calls for with Cyrano’s plainer soldier’s garb standing clear against it. My new concept calls for a very different look but I think I can make it work. But I need to (those of you who took the class, say it with me) read my script again.
I think I know what I’m doing for the next few weeks….